Chicago police are developing a foot-pursuit policy. It must be public and enforced.

Mural reads "We Need Each Other"

Cliff Nellis

A mural on the fence near the spot where Chicago police officer Eric Stillman shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo on March 29, 2021.

In my neighborhood of North Lawndale, the kids call the police “jump-out boys.”

The nickname stems from their experiences with Chicago police officers jumping out of their cars to chase, grab and handcuff whomever is nearby. There are no initial questions. No assessment. No strategy.

The kids run. It’s instinct and reaction. What else do you do when someone is chasing you?

Whatever opinions you hold about the police shootings of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez, I hope we can agree on this: No police officer or resident should ever be in a position where somebody dies simply for running away before following police commands.

Eighteen seconds after Officer Eric Stillman jumped out of his car, he shot and killed Adam in an alley outside Farragut Career Academy in Little Village. Thirty-five seconds after Officer Evan Solano left his car, he shot and killed Anthony on a front lawn in Portage Park.

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Eighteen seconds. Thirty-five seconds. Let that sink in.

Our city is debating what happened the moment the officers fired their guns. Some say the officers followed their training because body-camera footage shows Adam and Anthony carrying a gun.

But the seconds between when the officers jumped out of their cars and when they fired their guns violated basic de-escalation tactics.

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. approved a consent decree that requires CPD to use de-escalation techniques as a core principle to prevent and reduce the need for force. Specifically, the consent decree requires CPD officers to use time as a de-escalation tactic to slow the pace of an incident. As the videos demonstrate, the officers who shot Adam and Anthony clearly did not have a time-related strategy.

Time is not the only de-escalation tactic violated here. The consent decree also requires CPD officers to:

  •     Employ “tactical positioning and repositioning to isolate and contain a subject, to create distance between an officer and a potential threat, or to utilize barriers or cover;”
  •     Avoid “separating from other officers in the course of a foot pursuit;”
  •     Use “continual communication, including exercising persuasion and advice, and providing a warning prior to the use of force;”
  •     Request “assistance from other officers, mental health personnel, or specialized units;”
  •     Use “trauma-informed communication techniques” and “a respectful tone;”
  •     Allow individuals the opportunity “to voluntarily comply with lawful orders” to reduce the need for force.

As part of the consent decree, a court-appointed monitor submits regular reports on whether the requirements of the judge’s order have been met. The latest report, released in March, found that the city has complied with fewer than half of the paragraphs of the consent decree the monitor reviewed, and specifically cited a failure to train officers on proper de-escalation techniques.

“To have a positive impact on the community, the CPD must pay more attention to de-escalation and the prevention of force through tactics and interpersonal communication skills than its current efforts,” the monitor, Maggie Hickey, wrote in the March report. “The CPD should not treat these interpersonal skills as merely peripheral add-ons.”

The monitor also recommended that CPD establish a foot-pursuit policy. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she would push for a new policy by this summer. In the aftermath of Adam’s and Anthony’s deaths, this must be done.

Not only does this need to happen, it needs to happen in conversation with the public. This isn’t just about Adam and Anthony, this is about making de-escalation the normal practice and culture of CPD. We need to ensure that nobody else will suffer the same fate at the hands of our police.

Families and communities are hurting. On April 18, the Little Village community held a peace walk in Adam’s memory. We gathered at the alley fence where he was killed, which now features artwork of Adam with wings and arms up on one side, and the words “we need each other” painted on the other side.

We are in recovery as we experience the emotional cycle of suffering and seek to heal, but we are watching. The foot-pursuit policy that CPD adopts must be made publicly known and available. CPD must train its officers in common-sense, life-saving de-escalation tactics and hold them accountable when they fail to implement them and escalate conflict instead. We decide the kind of policing we want in our communities, and this is not it.

Let’s make the “jump-out boys” a thing of the past.

Cliff Nellis is executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, a nonprofit that provides holistic community-based legal representation for individuals, 24 and under, from the North Lawndale neighborhood.